At the end of the day, Friedman jettisoned the gold standard for a remarkable statist reason. Just as Keynes had been, he was afflicted with the economist’s ambition to prescribe the route to higher national income and prosperity and the intervention tools and recipes that would deliver it. The only difference was that Keynes was originally and primarily a fiscalist, whereas Friedman had seized upon open market operations by the central bank as the route to optimum aggregate demand and national income. The greatest untoward consequence of the closet statism implicit in Friedman’s monetary theories, however, is that it put him squarely in opposition to the vision of the Fed’s founders. As has been seen, Carter Glass and Professor Willis assigned to the Federal Reserve System the humble mission of passively liquefying the good collateral of commercial banks when they presented it. Consequently, the difference between a “banker’s bank” running a discount window service and a central bank engaged in continuous open market operations was fundamental and monumental. In short, the committee of twelve wise men and women unshackled by Friedman’s plan for floating paper dollars would always find reasons to buy government debt, thereby laying the foundation for fiscal deficits without tears.
The global liquidation wave started with Bernanke's statement yesterday, which was interpreted far more hawkishly than any of his previous public appearances, even though the Fed had been warning for months about the taper. Still, markets were shocked, shocked. Then it moved to Japan, where for the first time in months, the USDJPY and the Nikkei diverged, and despite the strong dollar, the Nikkei slumped 1.74%. Then, China was swept under, following the weakest HSBC flash manufacturing PMI print even as the PBOC continued to not help a liquidity-starved banking sector, leading to the overnight repo rate briefly touching on an unprecedented 25%, and locking up the entire interbank market, sending the Shanghai Composite down nearly 3% as China is on its way to going red for the year. Then, India got hit, with the rupee plunging to a record low against the dollar and the bond market briefly being halted limit down. Then moving to Europe, market after market opened and promptly slid deep into the red, despite a services and mfg PMI which both beat expectations modestly (48.6 vs 47.5 exp., 48.9 vs 48.1 exp) while German manufacturing weakened. This didn't matter to either stocks or bond markets, as peripheral bond yields promptly soared as the unwind of the carry trade is facing complacent bond fund managers in the face. And of course, the selling has now shifted to the US-premarket session where equity futures have seen better days. In short: a bloodbath.
While all eyes and ears will conveniently and expectedly be on the Fed announcement and press conference in a few hours, the real action continues to take place in China, where the liquidity crunch is becoming unbearable for the local banks (and will only get worse the longer Bernanke and Kuroda keep their hot money policies). The CNY benchmark money-market one-week repo rate was 138bp higher overnight to a 2 year high of 8.15%. The 7 day Interest-Rate swap rose for a record 13th day in a row jumping +10 bps to 4.08%, the highest since September 2011. China sold 10 Year bonds at a 3.50% yield, above the 3.47% expected, and at a bid to cover of 1.43 which was the lowest since August 2012. Moody’s commented that local government financing vehicles (LGFVs) pose significant risks to Chinese banks. LGFVs accounted for 14% of loan portfolios at end-2012 according to Moody’s.
Few others are better equipped to comprehend both the insider's and outsider's perspective on what the government, the Fed, and the banks are doing in this so-called 'recovery' we are experiencing than David Stockman. Nowhere does he detail this better than Chapter 31 of his new book 'The Great Deformation'. In this first part (of a five-part series), he explains just what happened after the US economy liquidated excess inventory and labor and hit its natural bottom in June 2009. Embarking upon a halting but wholly unnatural "recovery," doing nothing but igniting yet another round of rampant speculation in the risk asset classes. The precarious foundation of the Bernanke Bubble is starkly evident in the internal composition of the jobs numbers.
There can be no doubt that the global growth, earnings, incomes and fundamental story remains very subdued. But at the same time financial markets, hooked on central bank ‘heroin’, have created an enormous and – in the long run – untenable gap between themselves and the real economy’s fundamentals. This gap is getting to dangerous levels, with positioning, sentiment, speculation, margin and leverage running at levels unseen since 2006/2007. ‘Tapering’ is going to happen. It will be gentle, it will be well telegraphed, and the key will be to avoid a major shock to the real economy. But the Fed is NOT going to taper because the economy is too strong or because we have sustained core (wage) inflation, or because we have full employment - none of these conditions will be seen for some years to come. Rather, we feel that the Fed is going to taper because it is getting very fearful that it is creating a number of significant and dangerous leverage driven speculative bubbles that could threaten the financial stability of the US. In central bank speak, the Fed has likely come to the point where it feels the costs now outweigh the benefits of more policy.
Gluskin Sheff's David Rosenberg has ten nagging concerns...
"By propping up asset markets, the Fed has created an illusion that wealth is being created. The next step, according to Bernanke’s plan, should be for growth to follow. In fact, there is no reason why the rise in prices of financial assets should lead to actual investments or a rise in the median income. So far, it has not. There has been no real increase in the private sector propensity to borrow, and the danger may be that any further public sector borrowing will hasten the decline because of our “permanent asset hypothesis”. This means that, should the Fed lose control of asset prices (is this what is now happening in Japan?), then the game will be up and the downside move in markets may well be terrifying."
By now it should come as no surprise to anyone that in a Keynesian world in which the aggregate increase in credit levels is the only necessary and sufficient driver for "growth", as admitted repeatedly by Europe which has blamed its longest ever recession on "(f)austerity" and the inability to issue debt like a drunken-sailor, that the only thing that matters is how much credit money (i.e., liabilities) are created in the banking sector, either organically by creating loans, or through the Fed's low-power "reserve" money creation. If there is any confusion, we present Exhibit A: the chart that strips away all the conventional GDP = C+I+G+(X-M) abracadabra and cuts to the chase - US GDP has tracked the change in traditional bank liabilities for the past 50 years on an almost dollar for dollar basis.
Japan goes to bed with another absolutely ridiculously volatile session in the books following a 5%, or 637 point move higher in the PenNIKKEIstock Market closing at over 13514, which if taking the futures action going heading to Sunday night into account was nearly 1000 points. With volatility like this who needs a central bank with price stability as its primary mandate. The driver, as usual, was the USDJPY, which moved several hundred pips on delayed reaction from Friday's NFP data as well as on a variety of upward historical revisions to Japanece economic data, but not the trade deficit, which came at the third highest and which continues to elude Abenomics. Fear not: one day soon consumers will just say no to Samsung TVs and buy Sony, or so the thinking goes. erhaps the most interesting news out of Asia was the spreading of FX vol tremors to a new participant India, which is the latest entrant into the currency wars, even if involuntarily, where the Rupee plunged to 58, the lowest ever against the dollar.
A miss for the trade balance (extending the slide into bigger and bigger deficits), positive 'revisions' to rear-view mirror data on nominal GDP, a world of carry traders looking for a better exit point (or staring at margin calls), and more PR coverage of Abe's third arrow have created the perfect short-squeeze storm in Japanese stocks. While USDJPY managed to creep back above 98 (trading in a relatively modest 100 pip range), and JGBs rapidly recovered from early negative-correlated-to-equity-based losses to trade 1-2bps lower in yield, the broad Japanese equity market - TOPIX - is up almost 5%. This is it's best day since March 2011 and second-best day since Lehman. S&P futures are up a mere 2 points, Treasury futures are unchanged, and Gold is modestly higher. So simply put, Japanese stocks are on their own tonight in a land of Abe(g)nomics as every other asset (risk-on or risk-off) sits idly by.
"QE detractors... see something quite different. They see QE as not responding to the collapse in the money multiplier but to some extent causing it. In this account QE – and the flatter yield curves that have resulted from it – has itself broken the monetary transmission mechanism, resulting in central banks pushing ever more liquidity on a limper and limper string. In this view, it is not inflation that’s at risk from QE, but rather, the health of the financial system. In this view, instead of central banks waiting for the money multiplier to rebound to old normal levels before QE is tapered or ended, central banks must taper or end QE first to induce the money multiplier and bank lending to increase."
China’s credit growth has been outstripping economic growth for five quarters with the corporate debt bubble looking increasingly precarious (as we explained here and here). This raises one key question: where has the money gone? As SocGen notes, although such divergence is not unprecedented, it potentially suggests a trend that gives greater cause for concern – China is approaching a Minsky moment. At the micro level, SocGen points out that a non-negligible share of the corporate sector and local government financial vehicles are struggling to cover their financial expense. At the macro level, they estimate that China’s debt servicing costs have significantly exceeded underlying economic growth. As a result, the debt snowball is getting bigger and bigger, without contributing to real activity (see CCFDs for a very big example). This is probably where most of China’s missing money went.
Against this economic slowdown, stocks are priced quite richly. There is a word for when markets are totally disconnected from reality: it’s a bubble.
"The economy is amazing right now - employment is recovering, innovation is going and housing is reviving. What's not to love?" This was a statement we heard in the media to justify the recent rise in the stock market. However, back in the real world, what is clear from the two composite indexes is that the broad economy, and by extension underlying employment, has clearly peaked and has began to weaken. This is well within the context of historical trends and time frames. While the mainstream analysts and economists continue to have optimistic views for a resurgence in economic activity by years end the current data trends, both globally and domestically, suggest otherwise.
The idea that a weak yen is positive for countries outside Japan is gaining traction. This is preposterous and we'll see why as currency wars soon accelerate.